Update on Exxon Mobil’s “Water Grab” in the Delaware River Basin
Ever since ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO applied to the Delaware River Basin Commissions (DRBC) for a permit to withdraw water from a tiny trout stream for fracking, people have been speaking out and urging the DRBC to reject their application.
In fact, on May 31st, New York State’s Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, followed through with his promise to sue the federal government and order the DRBC to maintain a ban on fracking in the Delaware River Basin until an environmental impact study has been completed.
The next day, on Wednesday, June 1st, Protecting Our Waters traveled to the DRBC hearing in Deposit, NY, joining forces with hundreds of advocates for clean water and air, sane energy, and public health to testify against Exxon’s “water grab.” Despite the current moratorium on fracking in the Delaware River Basin, the DRBC might have granted XTO’s permit already if not for the public outcry, which generated 9,000 letters by June 1st!
At the hearing, the “anti-fracking” crowd demonstrated a high level of information, sound science, understanding of the economic costs of fracking, and care for living creatures –including humans — in public testimony. During a heated question and answer session prior to testimonials, one person addressed the elephant in the room: “Why are we even having this conversation? There’s a moratorium on fracking in the Delaware River Basin, so why not a moratorium on water withdrawals?”
Bizarrely, gas industry cheerleaders used the term “special interests” to describe everyone fighting for clean water, clean air, and public health. But clearly Exxon itself (with its $29 billion investment in shale gas extraction) was unquestionably the biggest, baddest — and let’s face it, the most special — “special interest” in the room.
The industry’s “divide and conquer” tactics included simplistic talking points written by the industry group, Energy In Depth. The industry solicited local government officials to testify, then drilled them on using the words “emotional,” “hysterical,” and “outsider” to describe anyone opposed to Exxon taking millions of gallons of water, for fracking, from Oquaga Creek, a small, gorgeous, trout stream. Dozens of local residents stood up against allowing Exxon to damage their watershed. Others pointed out that the watershed serves 15 million people and that giant corporations lay waste to the land, air and water when they frack.
POW Director Iris Marie Bloom’s testimony told of Crystal Stroud’s barium poisoning and misdiagnosis; emphasized public health; and asserted that because XTO’s application does not consider the impacts created by using that water for fracking, the water withdrawal application is fatally flawed and must be denied. She also provided statistics on jobs created by investing in renewable energy rather than fossil fuel and urged everyone to work together to build a long-term, diverse, thriving economy.
The local people of Deposit and Sanford, where the actual water withdrawal would take place, eloquently testified about their love for their stream, their way of life, and their opposition to Exxon Mobil. An organic farmer said he was making a living just fine, thanks, but that Exxon Mobil threatens all of that. Another fifth-generation resident said it would be unacceptable to have fifty huge trucks a day grinding away from Oquaga Creek to mix that pristine water with poisonous chemicals and pump it underground.
But much of the locals’ anti-fracking testimony was not heard until late in the evening, because they showed up after work whereas the pro-fracking officials and Exxon employees had gotten first in line (even as scores of clean water activists stood outside waiting in the hot sun). Thus, although those opposing Exxon’s “water grab” outnumbered the pro-drilling representatives 2:1 in presence and about 3:1 in actual public testimony, it may have appeared more evenly balanced to journalists who left early.
Considering all of the obstacles, we collectively did a great job turning out and advocating effectively for the protection of water, air and health. Delaware Riverkeeper Network deserves a special shout-out for their great organizing work, along with many determined groups!
Here is a link to additional press coverage: Oquaga Creek Water Withdrawal Request Draws Flood of Responses
Additional writing and reporting contributed by Iris Marie Bloom.